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SoWal Junior Lifeguard Program Aims To Make A Difference

May 17, 2011 by Joyce Owen

It's a popular and important program with the goal of saving lives. And with 26 miles of beach and lifeguards stationed at only eight public beach accesses (click to see the list of eight), Beach Safety Director Gary Wise knows there  are many long stretches of beach that go unguarded.

However, through the development of the Junior Lifeguard Program, participants are learning lifesaving skills that may put more people on the beach with lifeguarding skills.

The students learn about the beach environment, including wave formation, how to identify a rip current and what to do if you are caught in a rip current. The program provides training in water rescue techniques, first aid and CPR. Additional activities include kayaking, surfing and boogie boarding.

Whether they become lifeguards or not, Wise believes these youngsters will have knowledge about rip currents and the beach safety warning flag system and will be better able to advise beachgoers when it’s not safe to enter the water.

The Junior Lifeguard Program is for boys and girls ages 9 to 15. Wise and South Walton Fire District’s Professional Lifeguards supervise the program.

“This will be our third Junior Lifeguard Program. We had to cancel last year’s program due to the BP disaster,” Wise says.

Swim tryouts will be held May 21 at 9 a.m. at Ed Walline Beach Access. To qualify, participants must demonstrate proper swimming techniques in timed testing.

The cost for the program is $220. Each participant will receive a pair of board shorts, sun protective dry shirt and cap. The enrollment fee also includes an end-of-season cookout and awards presentation.

The program is June 21 through July 21. Activities will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Ed Walline Beach Access.

While there are many aspects to the program, the organizers anticipate by meeting people with similar interests, the participants will develop new friendships. Additionally, the program will give them an insight into life saving, fire and emergency rescue careers, which could lead to some considering a job in rescue work.

So far none of the participants have gone on to become a professional lifeguard, but that is more a factor of age, “as guards on our beaches must be at least 17,” Wise says.

While many Florida beaches have added lifeguards to satisfy demands for safer beaches; in other parts of the country, lifeguards are a routine fixture and have been for decades. Wise says on the East Coast, teachers often spend their summers guarding the beaches. On the West Coast, especially Southern California, one can make a career as a lifeguard.

For more information on the program, contact Gary Wise at (850) 267-1298 or gwise@swfd.org. See attached pdf for more info.

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Joyce Owen

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